Dairy farms can benefit from an open approach

All dairy farmers can do their bit to raise consumer awareness of the industry by getting involved in an Open Farm Sunday, says Neil Darwent, farm director for Lordswood Farms, Somerset.

I have opened Walk Farm, which is part of Lordswood Farms, to visitors for LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday for the past five years.

Based in Somerset, Lordswood Farms is a long-established dairy farming business which has milked and bred Montbeliarde cattle for many years. We pride ourselves on our innovative and sustainable approach, which combines traditional farming methods with a thorough understanding of environmental issues and excellent animal husbandry.

I think it is fair to say though that farming, and dairy farming in particular, is not always understood by the public. For me, Open Farm Sunday is a perfect opportunity to really engage with the public and show them all we do to look after the cattle and produce good food, while caring for the countryside and all the wildlife that lives there.

I have been running dairy herds and farms across the south of England for 25 years and am passionate about helping consumers to have a better understanding and appreciation of the British dairy industry and farming in general – which is one of the reasons we joined LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) originally. As members of LEAF we at Lordswood Farms share their commitment to connect the public with food and farming and have supported Open Farm Sunday since its launch.

Each year (aside from this year when dreadful weather meant far fewer visitors) we average about 600-700 visitors who come from both near and far. To market our event, we first register on the Open Farm Sunday website and make sure there is a good description of what visitors can expect, and also publish details on our own website. We maximise all the PR opportunities generated by LEAF and use the free publicity material they provide, including banners and posters to promote the day locally.

We plan our visitors’ experience carefully, well in advance, so they are able to clearly discover the whole story behind their food – from sustainable food production and animal welfare to how we minimise our environmental impact.

On the day itself, myself and my team give guided tours of the farm, which enables visitors to see for themselves how we work with nature to manage the countryside. For example, we explain to them why we encourage the growth of clover to help with feeding the cattle and how it can reduce the need for artificial fertiliser and show them the wildlife habitats on the field margins. We regularly find the public is really surprised at the breadth of what we do. They can often take for granted that the woodlands and fences, not to mention hedges and pastures, are cared for by “someone” – until their Open Farm Sunday visit that is.

These tours also provide an ideal opportunity for visitors to ask us questions they may have about dairy farming, which means we can answer them on the spot and correct any misconceptions they have – good for us and for British dairy farming in general.

For me, opening for Open Farm Sunday is not about selling more milk. Instead it is about improving the public’s understanding of the work we dairy farmers do and strengthening relationships between the farm and the local community. I believe that increasing the connection between consumers and their food is vitally important for the whole of British farming, and Open Farm Sunday is an excellent and a very enjoyable way to do this.

As the campaign has grown year on year we have definitely seen a greater connection between the public and their food and stronger community relations. I would urge more dairy farmers to get involved and reap the benefits of Open Farm Sunday.

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